By Ed Raymond
Remembering Two Men Whimpering in the Broken Jaw of Our Lost Kingdom
In 1284, Hamelin, Germany hired a rat killer to rid the residents of the flea carrier bringing them the Black Plague. For some reason, the mayor refuses to pay him after he supposedly accomplishes the task. The rat killer, piping beautiful music, leads 130 of the town’s children out of a town—and the hypnotized children are never heard from again.
Today, a plaque on what is now called the Pied Piper House reads: “A.D. 1284, 26th day of June--the day of St. John and St. Paul. 130 children, born in Hamelin were led out of town by a piper wearing multicolored clothes. After passing Calvary near the Koppenberg they disappeared forever.” In 1384, some resident entered the following in the town records: “It is 100 years since our children left.”
In 2016, the city of New York and the United States of America saw a handsome, tall blonde-haired TV personality float down on an escalator with his beautiful trophy wife, cheered by a bevy of local actors paid 50 bucks to acclaim his descent from a towering skyscraper, to announce he was running for president of the most powerful country in the world.
But behind his attractive façade lurked an ignorant psychopath who couldn’t tell the difference between truth and big and little lies. Having graduated from elite institutions, he cannot refer to American or world history, art, or literature because he is ignorant. Like all psychopaths, he has a narcissistic malignancy, loving only himself and his personal welfare. But here is another Pied Piper in a $5,000 navy blue suit, using the music of his constant lies to draw millions of people from reality to Trump Nirvana, a place where QAnoners and White Supremacists are oblivious to care, pain, or external reality, and buy his red MAGA caps made in China.
Why Do People Pay $1.4 Million for Hitler’s Watch and $500 Million for a Yacht?
I hope you find the answer somewhere in this column. In 1990 we had 66 billionaires and only ten superyachts of more than 250 feet in length. In 2022 we have about 760 billionaires, are adding more monthly, and they own 170 superyachts. In those 32 years the median wage has risen only 20%. In 2021, the leading dealer in superyachts in Palm Beach, Florida and others around the world sold 887 superyachts and took orders for 1,000 more. American-style capitalism can be pandemic.
Los Angeles real estate agent Rani Williams wanted to be king of the shining hill so he planned a spec mansion that would be the most expensive ever sold in the world. So, he spent years developing and building a mega-mansion he wanted to sell for $500 million. The mega-mansion had 105,000 sq. ft. of “living” space, five swimming pools of various designs and uses, a candy room, a night club, and other wrapping and spa rooms too numerous to mention. Williams called it “The One.” The building site alone cost him $8.995 million. In the end, after completing it over ten years, it was sold for only $126 million and Williams and his wife, still driving a Rolls-Royce Ghost, lost $44 million on it. “The One” proved to be “too much” for most billionaires for a reason I will reveal about the superrich.
Super-Billionaires and the Personal Battle Over Who Has the Biggest Superyacht
Evan Osnos, the author of The New Yorker article “The Floating World,” had to spend a lot of time, money, and traveling while writing a very revealing piece about the rich games played by billionaires—and most of them want to be “Number One.”
The largest sum ever spent for a home in the U.S. so far is a quadruple Central Park South apartment purchased by hedge fund billionaire Ken Griffin for $240 million. The most expensive piece of art was bought by an anonymous purchaser of Andy Warhol’s silk-screen portrait of Marilyn Monroe for about $195 million.
The price of superyachts of 250 feet or more takes real money beyond homes and art.
The Financial Times editorial staff has observed: “A superyacht is a terrible asset. Owning a superyacht is like owning a stack of ten Van Goghs, only you are holding them over your head as you tread water, trying to keep them dry.” A billionaire Silicon Valley CEO admitted to Osnos: “Big boats can absorb the most excess capital. Rationally, it would even make sense for people to spend half a billion dollars on their house and then fifty million on a boat that they’re on two weeks of the year, right? But it’s gone the other way. The people don’t want to live in a hundred thousand square foot house. Optically, it’s weird. But a half-billion-dollar boat, actually, is quite nice.
But a fifty-meter boat was considered a good-sized boat until recently. Now it would be embarrassing.” Osnos writes: “In the last thirty years the length of the average luxury yacht has grown by a third.” The descriptions of big yachts keep changing as people get richer. If it’s more than ninety-eight feet it’s a superyacht, a megayacht is more than 230 feet, and a gigayacht is more than two hundred and ninety-five feet. At the moment, the world contains about 5,400 superyachts and a hundred gigayachts. A gigayacht is the most expensive item that our species has figured out how to own. Poor Rayni Williams hadn’t figured that out.
Who Owns the Longest and Most Expensive Yacht? The Biggest Asshole!
Billionaire gigayacht owners are constantly ranking one another. Regardless of size, a private yacht can only carry 12 passengers but no limit on crew. This rule was passed by the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea after the Titanic sank after hitting an iceberg in 1912, killing more than 1,500 of the 2,240 passengers and crew on board. (It is still followed because of cruise-line lobbying.) There are gigayachts – and others – that have swimming pools, basketball and racquetball courts, bowling alleys, complete hospital surgical rooms, carry a couple of helicopters, have a submarine aboard for adventuring, mountain ski equipment, several high-speed jet skis, a seaplane, IMAX theaters, shooting ranges, and other entertainments too numerous to mention. Osnos writes about yacht owners using helicopters and smaller boats to ferry champagne, food orders from gourmet restaurants, and prostitutes from whorehouses on numerous rocky shores.
Alex Finley, a retired CIA officer who lives in Barcelona, a city where many yachts are anchored for a time, operates a Twitter account where she covers what’s in the harbors. She told Osnos: “To me, the yachts are not just yachts. In Russia’s case, these are the embodiment of oligarchs helping a dictator destabilize our democracy while utilizing our democracy to their benefit. It's a mistake to think the toxic symbolism applies only to Russia. The yachts tell a whole story about a Faustian capitalism, this idea that we’re ready to sell democracy for short-term profit. They’re registered offshore, they use every loophole that we’ve put in place for illicit money and tax havens. So, they play a role in this battle writ large, between autocracy and democracy.” No doubt, billionaire yacht owners of every country are genuine, certified assholes.
I wonder if the Netherlands Takes in Large Extended Families as Immigrants…
One of the certified assholes is billionaire Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, always among the top three richest men in the world. He most likely is second to Vladimir Putin in the number of bathrooms owned in many mansions scattered around the world. Jeff is now going for the gigayacht title of the most expensive yacht in the world. Actually, he’s having two yachts built at the same time. One is a 417-foot giga sailing yacht running more than $500 million with very tall masts and sails operated electronically. Because the sailing yacht cannot have a helicopter landing deck because of the masts, he is having another yacht built so his new wife can land her helicopter on her yacht—and then take a boat to Jeff’s yacht. The two yachts should put him near the top of the giga owners.
But wait a minute. Jeff is having problems getting his yacht to the ocean from the Oceanco Yacht builders in Rotterdam because the historic Koningshaven Railroad Bridge, classified as a national monument, is blocking his way. The railroad uses a tunnel now to cross the water. The yacht company applied for permission to have the bridge removed temporarily by the city—and they would pay the bill. They got permission.
But wait a minute. The deal to take the historic bridge out pissed off thousands of Dutch admirers of the bridge. Organizers against the bridge tear-down asked for volunteers to pelt the yacht with rotten eggs as it was moving through a channel. They immediately got more than 13,000 loyal Dutch persons to buy the eggs, let them rot, and then cover the yacht with thousands of rotten eggs as it passed by. So far, the yacht has not moved a foot. The clean-up bill would have been mind-boggling.
Americans Would have Removed the Bridge Because Bezos Is a Billionaire
The Dutch people are refusing to remove the bridge because Bezos is a billionaire. The Dutch are different than Americans. That’s why our family might move there. City Council member Stefan Lewis cited the reason the people are refusing to remove it: “There’s a principle at stake! What can you buy if you have unlimited cash? Can you bend every rule? Can you take apart monuments?”
New York Times reporter David Segal also wrote about the bridge: “This incident was portrayed as a victory of the masses over a billionaire, though it was much more than that. It was an opportunity to see Dutch and American values in a fiery head-on collision. The more you know about the Netherlands, with its preference for modesty over extravagance, for the community over the individual, for fitting in rather than standing out, the more it seems as though this kerfuffle was scripted by someone whose goal was to drive people here out of their minds. The first problem was the astounding wealth of Mr. Bezos.”
Donald Trump, always claiming he was a billionaire, said billionaires should rule the world, and then appointed several billionaires to his cabinet to rule the Divided States of America.
Another Rotterdam City Council member told Segal: “We think that rich people are not acting normally. Here in Holland, we don’t believe that everybody can be rich the way people in America, where the sky is the limit. We think the average, that’s good enough.”
To sum up, over the last 600 years because of ocean water and religious wars, Dutch Protestants and Catholics have learned how to survive living on land that should be covered with ocean water. Quarreling just won’t do. The Netherlands is built on cooperation—and will likely remain so.
My favorite poet T.S. Eliot in his poem The Hollow Men describes billionaires:
We are the hollow men, we are the stuffed men
Leaning together, headpiece filled with straw.
This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but a whimper.
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